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Suzette M. Puente, right, graduated magna cum laude last month. Photo by Greg Andersen

Adding Up Success

Mathematics Student Garners Full Scholarship to Graduate Program

May 18, 2010

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Updated June 8, 2010

Suzette M. Puente. Photo by Karen Tapia

Suzette M. Puente’s love for mathematics can be traced back to a small chalkboard her father used to quiz her before she entered Kindergarten.

“He would draw circles in two columns and I would add them in my head,” the 23-year-old McNair Scholar recalled. “At the time, it didn’t mean anything to me, but when I started school, I realized I was always ahead of the other kids.”

Her parents, Elvira and Felipe Puente, immigrants from Mexico, raised their daughter and her older brother Arturo in East Los Angeles.

“There was a lot of gang violence in our neighborhood,” said Suzette Puente of Montebello. “My parents knew college was the key to a better future. They pushed me in that direction and I am so grateful. They are amazing human beings.”

With such parental support and encouragement, Puente blossomed in academics. She completed her bachelorís degree in mathematics and now is heading to UC Berkeley. There, she will study in the six-year masterís and doctorate in statistics program. She accepted an all-expenses-paid scholarship to that university over similar offers to doctoral programs at Penn State, UCLA, USC, UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, San Diego State and University of Wisconsin.

Puente, who graduated magna cum laude, credits Cal State Fullerton’s McNair Scholars Program for developing her love of research and for preparing her for graduate school.

“I honestly don’t know where I would be without the McNair program,” Puente said. “Because of the program, I was presented with many research opportunities, but most importantly, it taught me how to be proactive about my education and achieving my academic goals.”

Through the McNair Program, Puente was paired with Gülhan Bourget, assistant professor of mathematics, and together they’ve been working on a statistical analysis of gene expression.

“The purpose of the research was to develop a strategy for modifying the t-test in the presence of small standard errors to ensure that the difference in a gene’s expression is not heavily dependent on artificial magnitudes of measures of uncertainty,” Puente said.

She recently presented that research with Bourget and another student at Brigham Young University’s Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics in Provo, Utah, as part of a National Science Foundation grant project.

"Suzette is mature and she works hard," Bourget said. "If I had to bet on whether any of my students, who are going on to graduate school, will complete their Ph.D.s, I would bet on Suzette. I believe, with her doctoral degree, she can become a university professor or work in many different fields."

Puente envisions her own future as a university professor, researcher and mentor.

Her undergraduate research experience includes working with Sam Behseta, associate professor of mathematics, on analyzing data in an effort to develop statistical techniques that can be used to compare the firing patterns of neurons.

Last summer, Puente was selected to participate in Rice University’s 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates program, where she worked on the “Bias of the Kaplan-Meier Estimator and Analysis of Pediatric Liver Transplant Data.”

She said the purpose of that research was twofold. “First, we studied patterns in the bias of the Kaplan-Meier estimator. We used simulated data from various distributions to study characteristics of the KME," Puente said. "Second, we applied the cox-proportional hazard model to analyze pediatric liver transplant data to determine whether there was a difference in survival for patients when considering such data as age, gender, ethnicity, etc.”

Puente “is a very bright scholar who has taken advantage of the opportunities presented to her,” said Gerald Bryant, director of the McNair Scholars Program. “She has the knowledge and understanding of what it will take to be a Ph.D. student and to persist and to graduate in her chosen field. We are proud of her accomplishments and know she will be a role model for future students who come from humble backgrounds and are committed and tenacious in pursuing their academic passion.”

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